|SUBJECT:||AH-6J Little Bird|
|TIME TO COMPLETE:||7.5 hours|
Bottom line up front: This was one of the most frustratingly enjoyable builds I have ever experienced. It progresses fast and builds a striking little model. Due to wildly over-sized sprue connection points, subpar molding quality, questionable engineering, and bad instructions, the kit would take way too much effort to build to a high level. For price, ease of build, and overall effort, the Kitty Hawk offering is the way to go.
THE BUILD: My intent of the unvarnished feature is not to provide the reader with a comprehensive build guide but to give a quick reference of the overall quality and build-ability of the kit. This kit does not take an incredible amount of skill to build, but will take a great deal of patience and skill to build well.
The instructions are Dragon’s typical effort with a single page that folds out like a wedding runner, but consists of only 20 steps. There is nothing terribly complicated presented to the builder. Steps 1-4 are the cockpit, and the first minor troubles become apparent quickly. First, step one has the builder measure and drill a hole for the right-seater’s collective. I missed this and the instructions do not show placing the collective in the cockpit at all. I only caught this error after looking at some reference pictures and realized that I had not installed the second collective. Part G2, the bulkhead between the cockpit and cargo area, has the correct instruments for a Night Stalker bird above it, whereas the Kitty Hawk kit requires the Werner’s Wings correction set to address this issue. Frankly, Werner’s Wings does a better job in this area as cleaning up the sprue attachment lugs and molding misalignment issues takes more time than it is worth, not to mention the detail isn’t nearly as impressive as Werner’s. Also, many of the small detail on the back of this bulkhead requires significant sanding to fit (see parts F5 and G15) and the halves of G14 and G17 look like they would need some time filling and sanding to smooth out a trough at the joint.
Moving on, the detail on the instrument panel appears relatively accurate but is soft in relief with no instrument faces to paint or decals to apply. This is a place I like to spend a great deal of time detailing, and one of the first places where the Kitty Hawk Little Bird blows the doors off of this older Dragon molding.
Step 6 deals with the weapons bench in the back, including the ammo boxes, belt ammo, and shackles for the folding fin rocket tubes to be installed later. Parts G3 and G4 are plastic ammo belts that Dragon wants you to bend in all dimensions to later connect to the miniguns outside. I played around with these belts and quickly decided if I were building this kit for real I would need other options as the plastic just doesn’t want to bend in the ways the kit would like. For the first time in an unvarnished I left parts out, intentionally. It’s just not worth it. I set all of this aside until last.
Step 11 is attaching the one piece skids and sandwiching the completed cockpit into the fuselage halves . First I would like to mention that I liked the Dragon solution for the skids and skid attachment much better than the Kitty Hawk version as the end feels much less fragile. Second, I had read that other builders had real heartache with the attachment of the windscreen to the fuselage. There is some forward and aft play of the cockpit between the fuselage halves, and I went with the cockpit as far back as it could go. Note that step 11 requires some measuring and drilling before you sandwich the fuselage together to later attach some of the various antennae and other warts. I did not do this, opting to place the parts on the outside using reference pictures, landmarks on the aircraft, and old Kentucky windage.
Steps 12-16 begins with the installation of the windscreen and largely involves putting on many of the aforementioned warts and protuberances. The windscreen actually fit better than my Kitty Hawk little bird and took little effort to install correctly. There is, however, a bit (don’t accuse me of exaggerating) of a step on the bottom that will need to be sanded and reshaped (and then some time using your favorite technique to reapply obliterated raised rivet detail). The windscreen will also require some polishing due to the over-sized sprue connection that mars part of the screen itself. Dragon does provide diagrams for measuring and drilling holes for said protuberances and antennae, but I don’t like that method. To my eye, many of the locations are incorrect specifically as to the antennae on top. I used a combination of reference photos and the drilling diagrams to come up with my own solution of just butt joining these parts where they appear they should go.
In these steps are also the build up of the mini-guns. These are a bit fiddly to align, are almost impossible to trim the sprue attachment points from without destroying important detail, and in my estimation should be scratched or sourced from the aftermarket world instead. They look good enough here, but don’t let that fool you. Find another way.
Steps 17-19 are a refreshingly quick build up of a sparse, but convincingly detailed, rotor hub and rotor assembly. This was the cleanest and most trouble free part of this build. My only gripe is that the blades are molded perfectly flat and show no sag. As you can see in some pictures, I played around with sag just by bending the blades at regular intervals between my fingers (you can see some white stress marks on the blade plastic). I think that is acceptable (and yet another reason to go with Kitty Hawk).
With that, I dropped the completed rotor hub into the hole on top, the fit was perfect, and she was finished except for installing the weapons.
I really did enjoy building this as the relatively low part count and general simplicity made it an unusually quick build. I can say that, however, because I was not building this kit “for real”. So much of the kit would have frustrated me endlessly in my search for competition level quality and it would have taken many unnecessary hours scraping away seam mold lines, polishing clear plastic, repairing divots created by removing sprue connections, re-riveting and shaping/filling joints. While it looks impressive, a side by side comparison of the Kitty Hawk Little Bird shows the age of nearly 30 year old molding techniques, affinity for raised rivets, sparse detail (your taste will vary), and how much of this kit is an afterthought based on modifying their early OH-6 releases with some new plastic for antenna and weapons. This is one of the rare times I can say with certainty that you should go with Kitty Hawk (and contact Floyd Werner at Werner’s Wings for his correction sets).